Â Â Â Â Columnists have compared President's Obama's dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal to Truman's dismissal of Douglas MacArthur.Â Â I have another analogy: Lincoln's dismissal of Major John Key.
Â Â Â Â A number of columnists have registered their opinion on the wisdom of the President's dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal and his appointment of David Petraeus as commander of forces in Afghanistan.Â Patrick Buchanan says that General McChrystal was guilty of "collossal stupidity" to have criticized civilian leaders in such a cavalier manner, but that the President's decision to fire McChrystal,Â our best fighting general,Â may prove "unwise and costly" – just it was unwise, in Buchanan's opinion, as it was for Harry Truman to have fired Douglas MacArthur.Â Fareed Zakaria of CNN rejects the analogy between McChrystal and MacArthur. Â MacArthur's firing, he argues, was necessary because the general publicly opposed President Truman'sÂ decision not to be drawn into a war against Russia, while McChyrstal and his staff simply expressed disdain towards the President, Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, and Ambassador to Afghanistan.Â Nevertheless, Zacaria concludes that McChrystal had destroyed his effectiveness in working with these civilian leaders in this nationbuilding exercise, and that it was a "masterstroke" for the President to have replaced him with David Petraeus.Â Here are additional columns on the subject by Maureen Dowd, Ed Rollins and others.
Â Â Â Â From a constitutional perspective these events are emblematic of the principle of civilian control of the military.Â From a historical perspective, it recalls President Abraham Lincoln's unrelenting efforts to find generals who could and would fight.Â In 2007 the Ashbrook Center published this editorial by Mackubin T. Owens contrasting Lincoln's active leadership with Jefferson's Davis' relative passivity.Â Lincoln repeatedly replaced field commanders until he found the right combination, while Davis retained generals out of a sense of personal loyalty.
Â Â Â Â Certainly the most significant decision that Lincoln made was to remove George McClellan after he proved, again and again, that he would not carry the battle to the enemy.Â But it is in his dismissal of Major John J. Key who served under McClellan that we glimpse both Lincoln's resolve and his compassion.Â Like McChrystal and his staff, Key engaged in "loose talk" that undermined the war effort; specifically, Key had said that the reason the Union army had not destroyed the Confederates after Antietam was so that there could be a negotiated peace that would preserve slavery.Â After personally interviewing Key, Lincoln dismissed him from military service.Â When Key's sixteen-year-old son was killed in combat shortly thereafter, Key wrote Lincoln asking to be reinstated so that he could fight in the cause for which his son had fallen.Â Here is Lincoln's stern reply:
Major John J. Key Executive Mansion,
Dear Sir: Washington, Nov. 24, 1862
A bundle of letters including one from yourself, was, early last week, handed me by Gen. Halleck, as I understood, at your request. I sincerely sympathise with you in the death of your brave and noble son.
In regard to my dismissal of yourself from the military service, it seems to me you misunderstand me. I did not charge, or intend to charge you with disloyalty. I had been brought to fear that there was a class of officers in the army, not very inconsiderable in numbers, who were playing a game to not beat the enemy when they could, on some peculiar notion as to the proper way of saving the Union; and when you were proved to me, in your own presence, to have avowed yourself in favor of that "game," and did not attempt to controvert the proof, I dismissed you as an example and a warning to that supposed class. I bear you no ill will; and I regret that I could not have the example without wounding you personally. But can I now, in view of the public interest, restore you to the service, by which the army would understand that I indorse and approve that game myself? If there was any doubt of your having made the avowal, the case would be different. But when it was proved to me, in your presence, you did not deny or attempt to deny it, but confirmed it in my mind, by attempting to sustain the position by argument.
I am really sorry for the pain the case gives you, but I do not see how, consistently with duty, I can change it. Yours, &c.